Adolescents’ self-titled debut turns 40 – a look back on this enduring staple of punk & hardcore
Adolescents' self-titled debut and the 'Welcome to Reality' EP available on vinyl in our store.
I don't know if it's totally accurate to call Adolescents "underrated" -- you'll find Adolescents back patches at almost any punk show and their praises have been sung by giants like Bad Religion, NOFX, Rancid, The Offspring, and blink-182 -- but they feel a little slept-on compared to peers like Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, and the Descendents, who regularly dominate best punk lists that the Adolescents are left off. That's a shame, because their 1981 self-titled debut album is absolutely one of the best and most unique punk albums of all time. It turns 40 this month, and in honor of the anniversary, we're looking back on it.
Adolescents were regulars of the Orange County punk scene (and they shared members with Social Distortion and Agent Orange), and they initially lasted for less than two years due to inner-band tensions, with members going on to be involved with D.I., Christian Death, Legal Weapon, and more. In spite of all the tension -- or maybe because of it -- Adolescents wrote a groundbreaking punk record. Rippers like "I Hate Children," "L.A. Girl," "No Way," and "Amoeba" completely captured the essence of early West Coast hardcore, as razor-sharp and snotty as anything by the Germs (whose Pat Smear briefly joined Adolescents) or Keith Morris-era Black Flag. Even if they had only written those kinds of songs, we'd still be talking about Adolescents as legends today, but this album took it a step further with an ahead-of-its-time mix of punk, goth, and metal that helped usher in a new style of hardcore on the West Coast and eventually worldwide. "We were trying to be middle-class punk, but half the band also wanted to be Black Sabbath," vocalist Tony Cadena told the LA Times in 2007. Much is made of how Black Flag introduced a Sabbath influence into hardcore on 1984's proto-sludge classic My War, and not to take anything away from that album, but Adolescents were onto something similar three years earlier.
Adolescents weren't exactly sludge, but when you listen to the slower, darker parts of songs like "Wrecking Crew" and "Democracy," you can hear how Adolescents helped bridge the gap between early hardcore and an album like My War, and influenced generation after generation of goth and metal-infused punk bands in the process. Even the snotty songs on this album have a darkness that was a little out of step with the usual SoCal hardcore/skate punk stuff. Tony Cadena's sneer was as bratty as it was menacing, and even the soaring, proto-pop-punk chorus of "Amoeba" had a devilish undertone. On the other end of the spectrum, drummer Casey Royer and late bassist Steve Soto's peppy, surfy rhythm section made for a danceable contrast to all the darkness.
Songs like "Amoeba" and "L.A. Girl" are the crowdpleasers, but the album's centerpiece -- the song that really puts it over the edge -- is "Kids of the Black Hole." This one was written by guitarist Rikk Agnew, who might've had the most contentious relationship with the rest of the group and was the first to leave, and you can hear how a song like this helped sew the seeds for the music that Rikk would write on Christian Death's pioneering deathrock classic Only Theatre of Pain the following year. It's a five-and-a-half minute song -- double or even triple the length of every other track on the album -- and it finds Adolescents going on a real musical journey, from its haunting slow-paced intro to its fast-paced punk chorus to its hypnotic instrumental bridge. The song practically invented post-hardcore (move over, Zen Arcade), and its dark, experimental twist on punk rivaled some of what Sonic Youth was doing in the mid '80s. "'Kids of the Black Hole' was like Quadrophenia for us," Steve Soto said in 2014. Making it fit seamlessly within a mostly-whiplash-inducing punk record in the year 1981 was no small feat.
As trail-blazing as the album is, it still feels like a no-frills punk record. Half the band may have wanted to be Black Sabbath, but the half that was trying to be "middle-class punk" won out when it came to the production (which was handled by Mike Patton of the band Middle Class [not that Mike Patton] and also included engineering/mixing by Thom Wilson, who went on to work with Dead Kennedys, Bad Religion, Social Distortion, The Vandals, TSOL, and eventually produced The Offspring's world-conquering Smash). Adolescents' debut sounds like a raw, tinny, early punk record in the best possible way. It's so unshowy that you almost miss how innovative the songs are.
Shortly after Adolescents' release, Rikk left for Christian Death and a new three-song EP was recorded without him. By the time the EP was released in late 1981, the band had already called it quits. Casey Royer went on to front the also-awesome D.I., Steve Soto and Frank Agnew joined Legal Weapon for their oft-overlooked 1982 classic Death of Innocence, and Tony ended up fronting the short-lived band The Abandoned. Adolescents' debut was never given a proper tour, and by the time Adolescents reunited with a slightly different lineup and released their 1987 sophomore album Brats in Battalions, punk and hardcore were in a very different place. (There's plenty of cool stuff on that album though, but Casey's distinctive style is missed.) One more album followed and then they broke up again in 1989, until they finally reunited over 20 years later; they remain active today with Tony as the only original member. They always seemed to be plagued by personal and creative differences and were never able to achieve the longevities or evolutions that some of their peers did, but that hardly mattered when their debut already felt like a greatest hits. It's stuffed with a handful of the most iconic songs of hardcore's first wave, and it's entirely void of filler. 40 years later, it's still one of a kind.
You can pick up a vinyl copy of Adolescents (and the Welcome to Reality EP) in our store. Stream it and watch a couple videos below...
In the market for more classic punk vinyl? Browse the punk collection of our store for Cock Sparrer, Crumbsuckers, Misfits, Black Flag, NOFX, Green Day, Duff McKagan's old punk band The Living, and more.